The demolition of the P.E.O. Home in Knoxville has made several pending lawsuits moot -- but not the claim of the Jones-Hinckley Trust that the millions of dollars in the hands of the P.E.O Home Fund should be used to serve elderly ladies of Knox County.
It's clear that the reason the P.E.O. Sisterhood, headquartered in Springfield, was so intent on demolishing the building had less to do with the costs of maintaining it in its mothballed condition and more to do with getting access to the money tied to it. That's the only reasonable explanation for their refusal to sell the building for the $200,000 they were offered or to put it up for auction.
Galesburg Attorney Robert Stoerzbach is representing the Jones-Hinckley Trust in the continuing legal dispute. ''The money, which as of March 31, 2000 totalled over $2.99 million was originally in an corporation called the 'Illinois P.E.O. Home, Inc.' They changed their articles of incorporation to name it the 'Illinois P.E.O. Home Fund, Inc.' and expanded their by-laws so that the money went from being for the benefit of old ladies of Knox County to ones in the State of Illinois. That's really at the heart of what we are contesting.''
''The will of Mary H. Jones left money for a home to benefit the old ladies of Knoxville and other parts of Knox County. In 1952, the trustees of the will approved transferring the home to the P.E.O. Sisterhood, with court approval, with the proviso that space be made available for Knox County residents, whether they were members of the sorority or not. In 1960, the will of Pluma Hinckley left money and real estate to construct a 'home for worthy women who need a home' but there wasn't enough money to carry it out and the court ordered her money added to the Jones money.''
''Under the doctrine of Cy pres, when a charitable use fails, the court considers the options and comes to a resolution that most nearly meets the original charitable intent. That's how the Jones and Hinckley estates ended up together.''
''I think that same doctrine applies today and the will was intended to benefit the women of Knox County -- not the entire state of Illinois.''
In a document filed in April, Stoerzbach asks that the assets of the P.E.O. Home Fund, Inc. be transferred to the trustees of the Jones-Hinckley Trust because they are ''the persons best able to carry out the general charitable intent expressed by Mary H. Jones in her will.''
David McDonald, attorney for The Illinois P.E.O. Home Fund, Inc., claims, in a response filed Monday in Knox County Circuit Court, that Stoerzbach's claim is improper because the property accumulated by the Home Fund ''never originated from Mary Jones.'' The response claims that the money in the fund is a result of donations, income from investments, memorials and assessments from P.E.O. members and are the property of the Home Fund.
The document also asserts that ''the real estate was transferred in 1952 out of the Jones trust to the new owner'' and the terms of the will do not apply.
McDonald also disputes Stoerzbach's application of Cy pres, asserting that the P.E.O. Home did not fail; ''it was operated for many years.'' He summarizes by proclaiming that the Jones Hinckley Trust has no standing to assert or pursue any claim.
That's for a judge or jury to decide.
The P.E.O. Home may be gone but Knox County courts could be carrying on the legacy of it for many months.